Repurposed performance

An outdoor cabinet of wonders in a brownfield site in central Manchester is the setting for a summer of innovative live arts

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Live performance has been understandably thin on the ground lately, but an 80,000 square feet brownfield site in Manchester city centre is about to become an ambitious temporary venue for theatre, comedy and music. Named Homeground and operating under the aegis of the neighbouring Home arts centre, it’ll offer a full programme of free and ticketed shows over the next 12 weeks.

Dave Moutrey, Home’s CEO, says: “When we were putting this together, I wanted it to be something that could work for all of the art forms that we’ve got. Rather than sticking an exhibition up, I felt it would be much better if we could create an environment.”

It’s a venue that’s also an art installation, designed by Cordelia Ashwell of Decordia Events in collaboration with Home’s curator, Bren O’Callaghan. A key inspiration has been the German method of presentation known as Wunderkammer.

“The literal translation is ‘cabinet of wonder’,” O’Callaghan explains. “It’s a means of presenting items that don’t necessarily go together, popularised by the Victorians. You’ll have seen collections of shells or geological samples or taxidermy animals, but when you place bits of these all together in one box, it takes on the magical quality of a treasure chest – this cacophony of items that all carry with them a story.”

Homeground will feature shelving cabinets made from scaffolding and reclaimed wood, displaying a wide range of artefacts including decommissioned Blackpool illuminations and fittings removed during the renovation of Manchester Town Hall.

O’Callaghan says: “There’s a lot of love for found objects. When creating new work for a temporary installation, we should always consider what happens to it after use, but also we can consider repurposing and upcycling, representing materials in a different way.”

Elsewhere within the sprawling Homeground site, there will be two festival-style stages with plentiful socially distanced seating and table-service food and drink outlets. The live programme is still to be fully revealed but already announced are bold, family-friendly productions of Alice in Wonderland and
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, shows by Ria Jones, Henge and Ibibio Sound Machine, plus other events presented in partnership with Trans Creative, Z-Arts, Contact and Frog & Bucket. Needless to say, this project is a reaction to the last year of lockdown.

“From what we’ve seen so far, all the evidence is that people want to go out,” Moutrey says. “It was about creating an outdoor space that felt safe and Covid-secure, one that reintroduced people to the work we’re doing at Home, and using that as an audience bridge. The other thing was, we’ve received a chunk of money from the Culture Recovery Fund. Manchester City Council has continued to support us during the pandemic, trusts and foundations have been very generous. The organisation is secure. Therefore we felt we have a civic responsibility to get out there and play our part in the recovery of our city and create some employment for freelancers. That’s all been part of the plan.”

The question is, though, will Big Issue North vendor Colin, now stationed back outside Home, be getting his own show at Homeground? “Oh, I’m sure he will,” Moutrey laughs. “I mean, Colin’s part of the family really.”

“We’ve got to!” O’Callaghan agrees. “We need a picture of Colin up on the main stage for the Big Issue North calendar.”

Homeground, First Street, Manchester, 28 May-26 August 

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